Thursday, 3 May 2018

Early Christian Orthodoxy

How do we know that the New Testament represents the true tradition about Jesus Christ? The only criteria is that it provides the widest range of multiple apostolic eyewitness testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that agree in the broad facts of those events. Other Christianities of the early church era could not and cannot claim such widespread testimony that would support a substantially different belief about Jesus, such as that he did not physically die and was not bodily resurrected. It may be trusted that God has indicated the true source of apostolic truth in this way.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Canonisation of Scripture

The idea of holding to 'the pattern of sound words' (2 Tim 1:13) implies flexibility in how the apostolic teaching could be conveyed. During the apostles' lifetimes, they could present their inspired teaching (John 16:13) in a number of ways, orally or by letter (2 Thess 2:15). By the time of its writing, 2 Peter 3:16 implies that the content of the apostolic writings contains the same truth as the apostolic teaching in general, as one only needs to twist the writings to be in serious error. This equivalency of oral tradition with the apostolic writings is later confirmed by Irenaeus and Tertullian.

The idea of the apostolic teaching being a general pattern means that it was not a major problem when not every church had exactly the same NT canon after the apostolic age. The general teaching of the apostles would still be present, just not with maximum detail - for example, in churches which did not accept Revelation, the general teaching about Christ's return and future kingdom was still present in the NT writings they did accept, until the church reached uniformity on the canon of the NT.

As for the Apocrypha, it may be said that, since it wasn't completely accepted by God's Old Covenant people by the time of the New Covenant, it wasn't and isn't essential or God would have got everyone to accept it by that point.

Faith and Scripture

I find myself gripped by the need to serve the triune God of the Christian Bible out of fear and love. In order to serve Him in belief and action, I trust that He has given the church, the pillar of truth (1 Tim 3:15), the writings of the Old Testament and the apostolically authored or approved writings of the New Testament to this end. This is not a notion explicitly stated in the Bible itself, but it is justifiable to do so by use of such verses as John 16:13; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 3:16

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Some Thoughts on Wealth

  • There are numerous commands to eschew the stockpiling of wealth throughout the NT, of which I will highlight three. The Lucan Beatitudes have Jesus pronouncing blessing on the poor and woe on the rich, the second of which have received their comforts in this life - heavily implying they will get none in the next. In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus commands us not to store up treasures on earth, while 1 Timothy 6:3-10 commands us to be content with the necessities needed for survival.
  • 1 Tim 6:10 is often appealed to for justification of Christians having great wealth: 'it's the love of money, not money itself, that is wrong,' it is often said, the implication being that if you have a huge amount of money but don't love it - meaning being hypothetically willing to give it away 'if God told you to' - all is well. But the teaching of the NT is too concrete to sustain this teaching: the rich that Jesus pronounces woe have received real material comforts as such in this life, while Jesus affirms that 'where your treasure is, there your heart will also be' - the very existence of material treasures affirming the location of the heart, not just a hypothetical giving away of them. Even the context of 1 Tim 6:10 speaks against this, with the sinful man 'imagining that godliness is a means of gain', and that those who desire to be rich will 'fall into temptation', direct rebukes to any theology that teaches being a Christian will lead to amassing a personal fortune not intended to be given away. If great riches do come to a Christian, 1 John 3:17 strongly suggests they should be given to fellow Christians in need rather than kept for oneself. The pension culture of our society in particular should be questioned in light of the parable of the man who stored up his wealth in barns, especially as the capitalist investment system pensions are built on thrives on the disadvantage of others.
  • 'But we're all rich in the West,' it will be protested, 'how can we avoid it?' It would be worth noting that the poor status Jesus commends does not seem to involve absolute poverty, if his own example is anything to go by: he clearly ate the good meals of his time, was happy to stay in people's houses, and took time off for rest and spiritual refreshment. In addition, the provision of food that God promises would presumably be nourishing enough for good health, and the clothes that He provides in suitable condition to be worn. It is not unreasonable to see this provision of basic needs extending to shelter. It should also not be assumed that all possessions are needless: 'a treasure' probably refers to something of great expense not needed to meet needs, which a relatively inexpensive car or computer may be necessary for. Finally, not all savings are condemned: 2 Cor 12:14 affirms that parents should save up for their children, which may take a number of forms, including the owning of property or saving for household needs and emergencies.
  • Having said the above, it must be affirmed that this is an area admitting of no straightforward answers, and one that requires much soul-searching. 2 Cor 9:7 affirms that each man should give what he has decided in his own heart, and so we should be careful about binding each others' consciences in these matters. But we dare not blunt the challenge that the NT, as the cutting Sword of the Spirit, presents to us.

The Election of the Lowly

1 Cor 1:27 stresses that God has largely chosen those who are of low status in the eyes of the world in order to shame those of high status. Given that the Matthean and Lucan beatitudes also emphasise the financial and social lowliness of those whom God has chosen, it must be asked if the modern church represents or is seeking to become this demographic, and if not, whether it can have any confidence that it is truly elect in a final sense at all.

The Nature of Ongoing Forgiveness

What does it mean that Christians must ask for ongoing forgiveness, as represented in 1 John 1-2? If we need ongoing forgiveness, do we 'lose our salvation' every time we sin and then become a Christian again? That seems impossible in light of the warning passages in Hebrews that suggest apostasy is irreversible.

The answer lies, I believe, in the fact that as believers we have two men in us: the 'imperishable seed' of Christ's Spirit that can't sin (as 1 John talks of later - 'the one born of God doesn't sin') and the flesh, the old man, that wars against the Spirit by trying to get off the cross and take back control.  The core of our being is sinless and needs no further forgiveness. The vestigial flesh, however, still sins, a fact which, while not affecting our core righteousness from Christ, introduces an element of destructive unrighteousness into our lives that needs to be dealt with for our overall spiritual health. Therefore, we must seek forgiveness and cleansing for the flesh, even as the core reality of who we are in Christ remains untouched.

For believers to ask for forgiveness, therefore, is not an attempt to be 're-saved', but seeking to obey the commands to 'put to death the works of the flesh' on a continual basis - demonstrating that we are in fact saved and that imperishable seed really is in us. If this continual repentance is not evident, it must be asked whether the new man is in us at all.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Church Economics

Mutual material care is required of the church throughout the NT. In the parable of the sheep and goats Jesus makes it clear that to care materially for other Christians is to care for him because, in some mysterious sense, the church is his body. As we refuse to store up treasures on earth, we will have at least some money or other resources to share with needy Christians locally or abroad.

In this way the church's economy transcends the world's ideologies. It speaks of a different reality to that of free market capitalism, which can so easily revolve around selfish gain and exploitation. But it speaks of a different reality to both leftist thinkers and those on the right in that the communal care of the church proceeds from the voluntary bonds of love, rather than through enforced legislation.

In this present evil age, all ideologies outside the church will have certain benefits and certain drawbacks. All are doomed to fail as products of fallen men, with only the church speaking of a truly different reality formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and inassimilable to worldly power and rule. Should we expect anything else, if the church really does speak of a unique reality realisable only in full upon Christ's return?